Previous research has shown that speech perception can be influenced by a speaker's social characteristics, including the expected dialect area of the speaker (Niedzielski, Journal of Language and Social Psychology 18: 62–85, 1999; Hay et al. The Linguistic Review 23: 351–379, 2006a). This article reports on an experiment designed to test to degree to which exposure to the concept of a region can also influence perception. In order to invoke the concept, we exposed participants, who were all speakers of New Zealand English, to either stuffed toy kangaroos and koalas (associated with Australia) or stuffed toy kiwis (associated with New Zealand). Participants then completed a perception task in which they matched natural vowels produced by a male New Zealander to vowels from a synthesized continuum which ranged from raised and fronted Australian-like tokens to lowered and centralized New Zealand-like tokens. Our results indicate that perception of the vowels shifted depending on which set of toys the participants had seen. This supports models of speech perception in which linguistic and nonlinguistic information are intricately entwined.
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